Big Mike GB sticker from CD 192Big Mike GB sticker from CD 192


Big Mike: Hidden in plain sight… the secret used car messages that could save you lots

Our mystery used car dealer columnist lets us in on the secret code world of the second-hand auto trade

Time 6:19 am, February 24, 2024

Subliminal messaging. It’s everywhere we look – from the adverts we see on TV to the narrow-eyed way in which Herself looks at me on days where I’ve clearly forgotten something I should have done around the house or have failed to notice her new haircut.

It’s a difficult concept for blokes to understand. As literal creatures, we tend to prefer a straightforward explanation over a confused message. We like black and white, not multiple shades of grey.

And that’s why, after more than 40 years in the trade, I’m still leaving messages for my fellow members of the trade that are simple and easy to understand – for example, the feedback that I left for a buyer who tried to chip me down on a well-known auction platform, which read: After Requesting Some Extra Help Owner Left Empty-handed.

There’s a reason why I did the first letters in upper case…

Or the time I was ‘correcting’ the mileage in a Ford Sierra for one of my less scrupulous previous bosses back in the 1980s, only to find a note behind the instrument panel that read ‘Oh no, not again’.

Or perhaps the occasion where I recall flicking through the service book of a Jeep Cherokee at a well-known auction house, where the last five stamps were from The Forge Garage with the postcode GU11 18LE.

Whoever had stamped that one up was having a laugh, and to this day I wonder if there was a punter gullible enough to fall for it.

Back in those days, where the only way to buy at auction was to physically turn up, the weekly trip to the part-exchange and bargain buys sale on a Monday teatime was one of the highlights of my week, both professionally and socially.

There was a bar at the auction house, so I’d normally go down on the bus and spend the night leaning on the rail, cigar in one hand and beer in the other, inhaling the scent of burnt oil and unburnt fuel emerging from the exhausts of some of the clearly poorly old knackers that were being dragged through the block.

Back then, we traders had a subtle but unwritten code to identify the duds.

Each of us carried in our jacket pockets a handful of GB stickers, and prior to the auction starting, when we were looking around the stock in the yard, if any of us noticed a major fault with a car we’d stick a GB sticker on the boot lid as a warning sign to other members of the trade.

After all, nobody else looks out for us and it’s good to keep an eye on your mates.

The warning message intended to warn off potential buyers of a Saab

As such, if a car went through the block with a GB sticker on the tailgate, there was a very good chance it wasn’t capable of making it to Dover, let alone across the English Channel.

This did occasionally lead to confusion though, and the clever dicks among us would get down to the auction house early to see which cars had GB stickers on them already.

Therein lay a bargain, while the auctioneer looked on bewildered as a low-mileage Volvo estate struggled to muster more than a single bid. I scored a few good ones that way while my peers assumed the car was wearing a warning sign.

But for every win, there’s a defeat, and sometimes you have to look very closely to avoid getting stitched up.

I recall one occasion where I was checking over a customer’s part-ex that supposedly had a full service history.

But when we got it up on the ramp, a mechanic had kindly written in chalk pen on the oil filter: ‘He asked us to clean this, not change it’, which was enough for me to run a mile.

It was very helpful of the mechanic – and quite transparent – but alas, I did get caught out in a similar vein recently.

The car in question was a Saab 9-5 Aero HOT estate, and those of you who read this column regularly will know what a weakness I have for a powerful old barge.

There it was, winking at me beneath its silver body kit, shiny ‘hammerhead’ alloys and gleaming silver paint assuring me that it was the car for me.

I crumbled and handed over the cash, as I often do when I see something I fancy smoking around in myself for a couple of weeks.

Back at work, I decided to get it up in the air and have a proper look at what I’d bought, and there it was for me to see – written in MOT tester’s chalk on the sump pan: ‘Don’t buy me. Metal in sump, engine has oil pressure issues’.

Said Saab is currently sitting in poo corner with my cheap part-exes while I decide on its fate. It’s entirely on me, though – after all, someone did their best to try to warn me…

This column appears in the current edition of Car Dealer – issue 192 – along with news, reviews, interviews, features and more! Read and download it for FREE here!

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Car Dealer has been covering the motor trade since 2008 as both a print and digital publication. In 2020 the title went fully digital and now provides daily motoring updates on this website for the car industry. A digital magazine is published once a month.

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